Dark figures before bonfires in open fields. Vampires that may or may not be Halloween costumes. Animals with an extra-sentient malice in their toothy snarls… These are glimpses of “The Birthday Party”—works by Scott Daniel Ellison on display at the Clampart Gallery in NYC. These small, folk-style paintings bring together imagery from Scandinavian folklore, heavy metal, and contemporary horror to create a landscape where satanic, or at least decidedly pagan wickedness seems to be the natural state. Viewing Ellison’s work one gets the feeling of being drawn into the logic of folktales and pulp supernatural, the familiar plot line of accidentally witnessing the occult and being caught in its’ machinations. As the title of “The Birthday Party” implies, this is a world where social rituals are transformed into dark magic and seemingly innocent encounters are full of dire implications.
Ellison is also a musician and the complexity that comes from the meeting of his visual and musical output enhances both. The folk elements that infuse his paintings with menace take on a gentler, more melancholic tone in his songs. Sweetened by guitar, banjo, and sharp harmonies, his lyrics shift from mythic imagery in pieces like “Northern Girl” and “Strange Weather” to the down-home domestic in “Raccoon Song”. In his song “Wilderness”, he asks that his heart be taken “downriver in a dug-out canoe… to a bonfire that burns the whole night through.” After viewing the works that make up “The Birthday Party”, the lyrical, traditional mood of this song is haunted by that vaguely Ozzy Osbourne figure in fringe, skulking by the flames in the painting “Bonfire”. It’s this uncanny tracing of the interactions between folk form and pop reference that makes Ellison’s vision a rich and relevant addition to the contemporary, rural gothic genre.
Scott Daniel Ellison – The Birthday Party is on display from Jan through Feb 20, 2010 at:
521-531 West 25th St
Songs by Scott Daniel Ellison available on iTunes or from Beatrice Records.